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by Mickie B. Ashling
Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
Description: Sequel to Taste
Horizons Series: Book Three
Six months after meeting at the Taste of Chicago, Lil Lampert and Grier Dilorio are living together. Their physical bond glows brighter than ever, but the couple soon realizes that it takes more than three magic words and outstanding sex to make a partnership work.
Like any fledgling, Grier is learning how to navigate his new life. His problems should have ended when Jillian signed the papers acknowledging him as Luca's biological father and he got the opportunity to pursue a career in interior design. Instead, he's hampered by old fears and bad habits that are hard to let go.
Adjusting to a small apartment in a four-season state--with a much younger man sporting a stubborn streak--is a challenge for Lil. His position as Luca's "Daddio" is a delicate balancing act between doing what he thinks is right and deferring to Grier's eight years of experience.
Life is stressed enough, but now Lil and Grier also face an unexpected complication from a powerful, far-reaching ruling body. Suddenly Luca's safety--and their happiness as an emerging family--depends on Lil's keen understanding of human nature and Grier's willingness to learn.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: September 2012
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [305 KB]
Reading time: 182-255 min.
Luca sprinted across the carpet and landed on the pile of blankets in a running leap, startling both Grier and Lil out of a sound sleep.
"Daddy, it's snowing!"
"Awesome," Grier mumbled.
"Come on," Luca said, impatiently plucking at the covers. He shook the other body that lay huddled underneath the warm down quilt. "Please, Daddio?"
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph... I really wish this child wasn't such a morning person," Lil murmured, struggling to wake up. He opened one eye and saw Luca's face inches away, looking at him expectantly. "What's wrong, sweetie?"
"It's thnowing," Luca screeched, lapsing into a panicked lisp. "We need to go out there and make angels."
"Oh Christ," Lil groaned, jabbing at Grier with his elbow. "Get up."
"You too," Grier slurred. "I'm not doing this by myself."
"What exactly are we doing?" Lil asked, pushing away the comforter and sitting up reluctantly. "Luca, do you have any idea how much I hate the snow?"
"It's so cold."
"It's supposed to be cold, Daddio. It's snow!"
Lil sighed in defeat. "Do I even own a pair of gloves?"
"We bought some the other day at L.L. Bean," Grier mumbled, finally lifting his head off the pillow. "They're guaranteed to keep you warm in minus ten degrees."
"Holy shi... sugar! It's not that bad, is it?"
"Wind chill," Grier said.
"Nice. You do realize my blood hasn't thickened yet. I've only been here for five months."
"Am I the only one who's been on a slow boil since then?"
Lil smiled at the gorgeous face that grinned up at him. "Hush. There are little ears present."
"Daddio? Are you getting up or what?"
"Oh, I'm up," Lil said pointedly.
Grier peeked underneath the blanket and saw that Lil was most definitely "up." He locked eyes with his lover, then winked conspiratorially. "Luca, go get dressed. Daddio and I will be along in a minute."
"Promise? No more cuddling?"
"Did he say cuddling or canoodling?"
"He knows his daddies."
"He's too smart for his own good," Grier said under his breath. "I promise, Luca. Now scoot!"
After Luca's exit, Lil slid back down into the warm depths of the comfortable bed and was pleased when Grier gathered him closer. "Let's stay for a second."
"It's just our luck that it had to snow on our weekend with Luca."
"It's December," Grier pointed out. "Did you think we were kidding when we warned you about the shitty weather?"
"Obviously not, but I'm a dreamer."
"You're gorgeous," Grier said, leaving a trail of kisses down Lil's torso as he made his way south.
"Grier, don't start."
"It'll just take a minute."
"What if he comes back?"
"I'll be under the covers."
"You like to live on the edge, don't you?" Lil gasped when he felt the warm mouth engulf him in one slick move. "Oh God," he moaned, closing his eyes and letting Grier transport him to a much warmer place. Knowing what awaited him outside their apartment wasn't enough to put a damper on his need for Grier, which had taken root since his move last August. They were like newlyweds and couldn't keep their hands off each other. The biggest problem was finding the right time, especially when Luca was around. Grier was determined to be a model father, and a part of that was avoiding anything out of the ordinary. He wanted Luca's childhood experiences to be the same as any other kid raised in a traditional household. The difference, of course, was that his father was gay. Telling Luca about his orientation was one of the most difficult things Grier had ever done in his life, but he was adamant about being honest after all the lies he'd perpetuated since the boy's birth. Luca had taken the pronouncement in stride, helped in large part by his love for Grier, and for Lil, whom he'd affectionately dubbed Daddio. The fact that his father and Daddio shared a bed was irrelevant to the eight-year-old.
Luca's mother, Jillian, was another story altogether. She had been furious when the court had awarded Grier joint custody, especially when she found out that Lil was moving in with Grier. She'd protested vehemently, telling the judge that Luca would be "turned" by two gay men. Fortunately, the judge wasn't swayed by her vitriol and had been generous and exceedingly fair about Grier's parental rights. He did say, though, that Grier had to be better than the average father for the simple reason that he was gay, and the cards were stacked against him. All this was said in the privacy of the judge's chambers after the decision had come down.
One wrong move and Jillian could take him back to court and press for sole custody. So far, Grier and Lil had been models of restraint, and they hardly touched each other in Luca's presence. They kept their public displays to a bare minimum. Hand holding and hugging were acceptable as was the occasional kiss. Rules were enforced, such as knocking before entering, teaching Luca how to respect one's space and need for privacy. This morning's rude awakening was out of the ordinary due to the first snowfall, but Lil planned on mentioning it at a later time. He didn't want to take on the role of the evil stepfather, but if he was going to be a part of this family, he needed to be able to speak his mind and discipline Luca when necessary. Lil did not believe in corporal punishment, and neither did Grier, but rules were established for a reason, and breaking them came with a price.
Lil's sanity and patience were being tested daily since he'd left his cushy apartment and bachelor's existence back in the Bay Area. Becoming an instant father and partner had not been without issues. Primary among the topics under constant discussion was the need for more room. Grier had rented the small two-bedroom apartment in Elk Grove Village so that they could stay in Luca's current school district and not subject the boy to any more upheaval than necessary. However, it was a far cry from the cavernous condominium Lil was accustomed to. He missed his bed, his kitchen, his amazing bathroom, and he was tired of asking Grier to forego his ridiculous notion of renting only what he could afford. Lil had enough money to go around, and if moving to a house would solve a lot of the more pressing concerns, then Grier needed to suck it up and accept the truth. He was in love with a man of means who was used to certain standards.
Lil pushed all negative thoughts from his mind and concentrated on the sweet sensations brought on by the creative man under the sheets. As promised, Grier performed his magic, and Lil was coming in a heated rush within minutes. Each movement of the practiced throat muscles produced sensations that Lil couldn't even begin to describe. His partner's aptitude in bed more than made up for all the other inconveniences he had to endure.
The banging on the door, and the small voice telling them to hurry, shocked them out of their happy place, and they left the warm bed grudgingly, throwing on the necessary layers of clothing to survive a cold December day in the Chicago suburb.
Lil stood in the parking lot looking like the Michelin Man in his puffy down jacket, matching down pants, and snow boots. His head was covered with a Polartec fleece beanie, and he wore sunglasses to protect him from the glare that bounced off the pristine snow. Lil looked at his precious Mercedes Benz covered in the white stuff and groaned. "Yet another reason to move."
"What are you talking about?" Grier asked, resting his arm on Lil's shoulder.
"If we had a house, we'd have a garage where our cars would be safe from the elements, and you and I wouldn't have to shovel."
"We'd have to shovel the driveway."
"We can hire someone."
"Don't be ridiculous. Why pay someone when you and I are both capable?"
"What if I don't want to?"
"Stop being a princess."
Lil frowned and glared at Grier's smiley face. "Just because I refuse to deal with snow doesn't make me a princess."
"Yes, it does. People have been dealing with it all their lives."
"From here! I'm used to perpetual sunshine."
"And earthquakes, drought, and general San Francisco craziness."
"Oh, be quiet."
Grier kissed him quickly. "Love you too," he said, handing Lil a big plastic shovel. "Dig out your baby."
Thirty-five minutes later the Mercedes was cleaned off with the engine warming up. "Why'd you start the car?" Grier asked, opening the door.
"I'm going house hunting."
"No, you're not," Grier said, holding on to Lil's arm. "We're not moving."
"We'll see about that," Lil muttered, getting out of the vehicle. He left the car running and locked the door with his spare key. "Can't we, at least, see what's out there?"
"You want to waste our weekend running around town looking at houses we'll never get."
"Why are you being so stubborn?"
"I can't afford a house right now. When I'm done with school, and have a better job, we can talk about it," Grier said. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled at Luca, who was building a snowman.
"I don't want to go in yet," Luca said, a little breathless from his sprint across the parking lot. His cheeks were like McIntosh apples, and snow covered his outfit, but he seemed unfazed.
"Sweetie, aren't you cold?"
"No! Come on, Daddio. We have to make the thnow angel."
"Say snow, Luca," Lil said, emphasizing the S in the word. The speech therapist had done wonders in a short time, but Luca slipped when he got excited.
Luca furrowed his brows and put his teeth together. "Ssnoow."
"Can't we pleasse stay outside?"
"Come on," Grier said, pulling on Lil's hand. "Let's play."
Lil shook his head. "No."
Grier and Luca dragged the protesting man across the parking lot. By the time they got to the snow-covered lawn, Lil was laughing, and the momentary discomfort was forgotten by the sight of his two favorite guys enjoying the outdoors. Lil wondered if he'd ever get used to this kind of weather, but for the moment, it was still a novelty, and he picked up a handful of the white stuff and smashed it against the pile Luca had started. Working in unison, they turned the snowman from fat and misshapen to tall and sturdy.
"We need a carrot for his nose and something for his eyes and mouth," Luca said.
"I'll go and get something," Lil offered. He walked across the lot toward the entrance of the building, turning off his car engine with the remote in his hand. He wished he could get Grier to see reason about the money issue, but the man was as stubborn as he was proud. He refused to accept money from Lil other than the once-a-month check to pay for half the rent and expenses. Even that had been a royal battle, and the only reason Grier had given in was because Lil had threatened to get back on a plane and leave his fabulous ass. Still, Grier insisted on living within his means. The snide remarks Jillian had cast in his direction about his "sugar daddy" had only reinforced his determination to remain in the apartment when Lil could have easily moved them into something twice the size. Lil couldn't understand this kind of pride, but there was a part of him that admired Grier's need to be self-sufficient.
He unlocked the door to the tiny apartment they called home and tripped over Bianca, the Himalayan who shared their cluttered space. She'd been waiting for Luca to return, and Sebastian, Lil's own pride and joy, had watched from his perch on the new cat tower they'd purchased hurriedly upon his arrival. Lil had hoped to entice his finicky feline into accepting his new "sister" with a fancy carpeted skyscraper, but the cat remained aloof. He probably wondered when his master would come to his senses and fly them back to their comfortable home in the Bay Area.
Bianca let out a loud wail when Lil stepped on her tail, and he overcorrected, slamming his shin against the coffee table and cussing up a blue streak when the pain ricocheted up his leg.
"Goddamn piece-of-shit table!"
Lil watched his use of expletives around Luca, but the pain was making them pour out in a volatile litany. "That's the last bloody straw," he declared, hell-bent on finding a larger place before he committed some heinous act that would land him in the doghouse with Grier, or even worse, jail. He could just see himself losing it over another stupid incident brought on by the monumental clutter. He was still living out of boxes, and cats and humans were tripping over each other constantly. This was not the ideal situation to get to know anyone, especially not someone he was madly in love with. Lil had no desire to let money ruin a good relationship, but he was honest enough to admit that he could only take so much. His mother's words kept repeating in his head. When poverty knocks on the door, love flies out the window. No shit! To live in a garret because one had no choice was one thing, but he had enough money in the bank to buy a fucking mansion. He would be damned if he was going to allow pride and stupidity to get in their way. He hobbled over to the desktop Grier had set up in the combination living room/dining room, clicked on the real estate section, and began to browse like a camel in search of water.